Friday, September 30, 2011

Dragonfly Summer

I've had various Counting Crows songs bouncing through my head all week, because Monday morning--completely unprompted, since I hadn't listened to CC for at least a couple weeks prior--I woke up with "Round Here" and "Sullivan Street" in my head. I kind of love it.

Thank you, NPR, for this fantastic headline:
Congratulations, Television! You Are Even Worse At Masculinity Than Femininity

I never played Scrabble growing up, and I've never been very good at that kind of game; it's taken me a long time to figure out how to maximize the special squares on the board. But I am finally getting there, and Sunday night I was excited to have this happen:
(Yeah, that's how good our stupid phone cameras are.) That's a 64-point word! I may have gotten a higher score since then, I don't remember, but at the time I think this was the highest I've ever gotten. Yay word games.

And, in case you're wondering about the title of this post--this has been a summer of dragonflies. They are everywhere, and maybe I just didn't pay enough attention in years past, but I never noticed so many before. Last Sunday, after Mike and I had spent the night at Dafni and Brandon's house, we spent the morning chasing dragonflies around the backyard with Jaylee. It was a fantastic morning.
(This is actually a picture from last summer, because I don't think I've taken any of dragonflies this year. Which is a shame, because they've been much prettier than this one--bigger, and blue instead of brown. Maybe I can still get some before winter sets in.)
Banned Books Week has been lovely, although I wish there were actual events around here to celebrate it, rather than just me reading as many banned books as I can and talking about them. (Speaking of which: the current tally is three, with one more to hopefully be finished over the weekend; reviews of the last two will come next week before we leave for Utah.)

And, finally... We're leaving for Utah! I can't believe we're down to only a few days, and I really can't believe that Anna will be married one week from today! And we'll have a new niece when we get there! This is an eventful week for the Shortens. Also, we are planning on being in the mountains as much as possible. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pocket Watches and Descartes

This is the name of an article from BYU Magazine that I saw linked on another blog. It's a nice article, short, and you can read it here.

I'm posting about it because I found it really dissatisfying. I fully identify with the subject--this is exactly what I've been going through for the last few years of my life. I felt a strong connection to the writer's experience, felt solidarity with someone who was describing my situation almost perfectly. And that's why I was so disappointed with how easily it ended.

It's obvious that the article was shortened to fit space constraints--that kind of conciseness comes from editors, not writers. There was probably more padding in the original, and a less abrupt ending. But it's not just the quick ending of the writing that bothers me, it's the quick ending of the story itself. It pretty much sounds like this experience took place over the course of a school year. She got back from her mission, thinking she had it all figured out; she took a class that made her start asking questions; she struggled for months; and then she found peace.


Was it really that simple for her? Because I'll tell you what, it has not been for me. I'm going on... well, several years, at least three and at the most eight depending on where you start counting (about which I am not sure). Reading articles like this ends up being pretty frustrating, because they always seem to end the same way: namely, with the author suddenly realizing--all in one warm fuzzy moment--that ultimately God will take care of everything. And then that's it.

But is that really it? I mean, I've had those moments too, tons of them--and the thing is, they always end. You can't get through these kinds of questions with little spiritual epiphanies, because really, they aren't epiphanies; they're things you've always been told, and maybe sometimes you forget them for a while and so it's supremely encouraging and uplifting to be reminded, but in the end you didn't actually learn anything new that will change your situation or add another piece to the pocket watch. If you're really talking about "deeper, unsettling questions" and "a full-blown Cartesian experience," then it seems a little improbable to me that all your problems can be solved in one moment of sudden understanding.

But maybe it's just me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Story(mony) Hour

I used to be one of those people who griped about "storymonies." Then last night I remembered a bishop I had as a teenager--one who, years before I discovered any smidgen of liberal "rebellion" in myself, rubbed me the wrong way when he sat in on our Girls' Camp testimony meeting, telling us specifically what we should and should not say, and ending the meeting long before we were done. (He was as literal, by-the-book, and strict as they come--both as a bishop and as a person--and even as the Molly Mormon I was, we didn't get along.)

So now I'm just wondering--how meaningful can you really expect testimonies to be if they're only a bunch of stock phrases? Those rambling stories that make everyone roll their eyes are also the things that make a testimony personal. You can only hear "I know the church is true" so many times before the words kind of start to lose significance, you know? I just think sometimes we're too concerned with ceremony in the church, and I think this is one of those times.

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier --8/10

No one is kidding when they say this is a dark book. You wouldn't think a novel about a school chocolate sale could be that interesting, much less controversial--but then, The Chocolate War isn't really about a chocolate sale. It's about all the darkest aspects of human nature--how people hate anyone who chooses to be different because it undermines their own security; how the strong prey on the weak, and how the strong aren't actually that strong at all, but are in pain like everyone else and taking it out on anyone smaller, and in the end life is an infinite chain of hurting and being hurt.

Like I said: dark. But it's good, and not only do I think kids shouldn't be prevented from reading it, I think it's probably important for them to read. Things don't seem to end well for the kid who dares to disturb the universe--but then again, we're also very aware of how different things could have been if just one of the other links along the chain would have chosen to break free. Honestly, I don't think there's anything in this book that a teenager doesn't have the right to know about.

Published 1974. Fourth most challenged book from 1990-1999, third most challenged from 2000-2009.
Reasons challenged: offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence.
"I can sympathize," Cormier said of parent concerns about his novel. "I know there are sensitive kids and sensitive parents. My problem is when they want to prevent other people from reading it."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins--7/10

I keep having to give this book a numerical rating, and I don't really know how to. I was fascinated, but I didn't like it; I read it in probably two or three hours, partially because it's written in verse with only a few sentences per page, and partially because there was a morbid curiosity that, more than once, made me hover by the couch and turn several more pages after I'd already stood up to go to the bathroom, the kitchen, wherever.

Because I am laughably ignorant in the realm of drug slang, I did not know what Crank was about before I started reading. In case you don't either, "crank" is meth, and the book is about a girl named Kristina who starts using it. It's reminiscient of Go Ask Alice, except that 1) this book actually is based on a true story (the author's daughter), and 2) Kristina's meeting of "the monster" is fully voluntary.

Crank has a deceptively comfortable ending if you don't know that there are sequels (which I didn't until I started this post. There are spoilers in the descriptions, but then again, there's a pretty big spoiler in the author's note right at the beginning of the book... And anyway let's be honest--knowing that the book is about teen drug use, there isn't really a lot of mystery in where it's going to begin with). But I'm certainly considering picking up Glass the next time I'm at the library.

Published 2004. Fourth most challenged book in 2010.
Reasons challenged: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit.
"Some call my books edgy; others say they're dark. They do explore tough subject matter -- addiction, abuse, thoughts of suicide, teen prostitution. But they bring young adult readers a middle-aged author's broader perspective. They show outcomes to choices, offer understanding. And each is infused with hope. I don't sugarcoat, but neither is the content gratuitous. Something would-be censors could only know if they'd actually read the books rather than skimming for dirty words or sexual content."
--Ellen Hopkins

Friday, September 23, 2011


Apparently I get migraines now. Holy crap.

I've always had chronic headaches, and sometimes they are bad. But I never thought they were migraines because there was no nausea or light sensitivity. Twice now, in the last couple months, I've had headaches that I think might be migraines, because they come with nausea in addition to the crippling pain.

I am really, really not a fan.

By which I mean that I would sort of like to die right now.

Ow. :(

Brain Dump

I'm considering making the "brain dump" a new feature of my blog, or at least for as long as I'm not using Facebook regularly. It turns out I have a lot of little thoughts throughout the day that normally would become Facebook statusi; so, rather than sharing my brain with the world every ten minutes, I'm going to combine them all into a weekly post (probably to be done on Fridays, since the post I wrote last Friday happens to fit exactly). Having the draft running all week will also allow me to filter out the stupid ones before they make it to the internets. :)

What is with English speakers and our need to condense everything as much as possible? Why is "cellphone" a word now? The same thing happened with "payphone." A cellphone isn't a thing--it's a phone that uses a cellular network. This is everywhere now and I cringe every time I see it.

I was playing a geography game on my phone and there was a multiple choice question that asked, "Which of these does not belong?" The options were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Ethiopia, so I picked Saudi Arabia. The correct answer, it seems, was Ethiopia, since it's the only one that doesn't border the Red Sea. Silly me, thinking the one that didn't belong was the one that's NOT IN AFRICA.

It's pretty disheartening to see how the majority of YA "lit" can now be boiled down to two categories: books that look like Twilight, and books that look like Gossip Girl. The teen aisle at Barnes and Noble is an increasingly depressing place to be.

I find one of the new Facebook changes particularly interesting--the birthday feature, which is now actually harder to use (look how it's wedged in to that sidebar, halfway down the screen, and it doesn't even use the word "birthday" to catch your attention, just that teeny little icon).

Besides that, I have to admire the new heights of laziness this feature allows us to reach. I mean, come on--it wasn't easy enough to write on someone's wall before? We needed a pop-up box? Honestly, if you can't even be bothered to visit someone's Facebook profile to wish them happy birthday, I'm not entirely sure you care enough to be wishing them happy birthday.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Troy Davis

I've been avoiding posting anything controversial and I'm still going to do that for a while. But I'm reading about something this morning that is making me feel physically sick to my stomach, and I think it's important for me to share it.

A death row inmate, sentenced for killing a police officer, was executed last night in Georgia after lots of delays and appeals. Crowds of people were marching through the streets in protest--it seems there were several significant problems with the evidence against him, including six witnesses who say the police threatened them if they didn't choose Davis out of the lineup, and the fact that seven out of the nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony after trial. (This editorial has the most complete list of all the other problems with the case.)

I want to point out something about the way this story is being handled. When I was reading this morning, the CBS, ABC, MSNBC, NPR, and CNN websites all featured Troy Davis on the front page before you even have to scroll down. (I included the links, though I'm sure the front pages will change in an hour or so.) Every one of those headlines was some variation of the phrase "Troy Davis executed," all using his name.

On the Fox News website I had to scroll down to the third page--past an article and photo criticizing Obama--to find the story. And the tiny headline said "Georgia executes cop killer." (Once you get into the articles themselves you can't really tell what site you're on anymore, since most of them, including Fox, just tweaked an AP article.)

This is a serious event, one that hundreds of thousands of people are upset about today. A man was killed by the state. Whether you approve of the execution or not, I think the issue deserves a little respect. Fox can't take one inch from the Republican debates for it? President Obama can't make even one statement about it?

Completely aside from all the questions about the morality, efficiency, or fairness of the death penalty itself, I find it disturbing that a man would be killed when there is this much reason to doubt his guilt. I feel so sad for a man who might have been innocent; for his sister and his niece, who last saw him when there was still hope the execution might be stopped; for his teenage nephew, who led a group of supporters outside the prison; for the family of the dead police officer, who still think, more than ten years later, that another man's death will bring them peace. It doesn't matter if they investigate this; even if he's found innocent, no investigation can give Troy Davis his life back. This is not a decision that Georgia or the Supreme Court can take back, and I hope we will remember their choice for a long time.  I am not proud of our judicial system today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Isn't This Beautiful?

What I'm Going to Read for Banned Books Week 2011

--which is next week, in case you didn't know. BBW is always the last week of September.

I started with the top ten list for 2010, where, rather unhelpfully, the only books my Goodreads friends have read and reviewed are the same ones I have read (with one exception). So I chose:

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Because it's been on my shelves for several months anyway, and this is a good reason to finally pick it up.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Because the premise is intriguing--and because this was the Goodreads exception, and I'm interested to see whether I agree with the one- and two-star reviews or the four-star.

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Because I've meant to read this book for so long--and checked it out from the library so many times--that sometimes I think I actually have read it. Also because it's one of the top five most challenged books of the last two decades--the only book that stays in the top five in both decades. That warrants some attention.

As sort of alternates, in case I decide to bring this year's count up to five:

Either Brave New World or The Color Purple, since both are on my "I can't believe I haven't read this yet" list. The choice will probably depend on how easily I can obtain a copy; if I'm remembering my disbelief from last year correctly, none of my libraries carry The Color Purple.

One of these three from the 2010 list: Crank, Lush, or What My Mother Doesn't Know. Have any of you heard anything about them? Based on their summaries I'll probably go with Crank--the other two don't really grab my attention--so let me know if I should switch.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman--8/10

This is a lovely, heartbreaking book about the life of an international newspaper based in Rome. I love the way it's written: Each chapter is about a different character, someone related to the paper, and in between each present-day chapter there's a short one chronicling the history of the paper from its creation. It feels almost like a book of short stories, except that each new story stars a character who's already been mentioned in a previous chapter. I pictured a metal chain, each link reaching into the one before and the one following. It's surprisingly short for the kind of book it feels like it is, which ended up making sense, but still left me wishing it wasn't over yet.

Most of the characters left me with a satisfying resolution; a few didn't. (Interestingly, the one that was left in the least satisfying way is also the one whose story seemed the least realistic, more like a plot from a movie.) I ended up loving most of the characters, though they were by no means all likeable. And I loved that although the book follows fifteen or twenty different storylines, touching all the drama of real human lives, it never felt like a soap opera. No over-dramatizing, no deliberate mysterious hint-dropping to string you along. It's all simple, it all feels real, and that's why it's so interesting, because human beings are interesting without needing to be sensationalized. Now, having finished it only half an hour ago, I find myself wanting to start it again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

For the Win, by Cory Doctorow--9/10

There's an emotional cycle I go through every time I read one of Cory Doctorow's books, similar to the cycle I go through when I think about politics, or human rights, or the corporatizing of the world. First is shock, as I start learning about whatever new despicable thing it is I'm reading about. Then comes indignation, followed by a combination of fury and frustration and fear that things will only get worse, not better. Thankfully, with Cory Doctorow I get the resolution that I never get in real life. 

For the Win is pretty freakin' intense. The story is that online games like World of Warcraft (which is mentioned disparagingly as being from "the dawn of time") have become actual world economies--something like eight of the twenty largest in the world, actually. There are people called gold farmers who play the game for a living, harvesting gold and turning it over to their bosses, who sell it for real money. The gold farmers, of course, are child laborers, mostly teenagers from impoverished countries like China and India. The bosses are ruthless, corrupt men whose goons keep the children in line through physical abuse and beat them into the hospital when they stray--mouthing off, for example, or asking for a break after being forced to play for 22 hours straight. And then Big Sister Nor shows up, roaming the game worlds and telling players that it doesn't have to be this way.

This book includes all the standard elements of any good Cory Doctorow novel: a thrilling story, a cast of technological prodigies (teenagers when it's YA), rebellion against the corrupt establishment, terrifying semi-futuristic plotlines that don't sound all that futuristic, and the occasional surprisingly-understandable explanation of concepts that are really hard for me to get--in this case, economics. (Short version: the stock market is nothing but ridiculously-high-stakes gambling which, for some reason, is respected where regular gambling is looked down on.) You don't have to be looking for anything more than an exciting and dramatic story to enjoy this book--and if you are looking for something more, well, there's plenty of that too.

(As usual, the book is available for free on the author's website; if you're on the fence, download it and read the first chapter. I can almost guarantee you'll be hooked by page ten.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maybe this is why so many people switch to WordPress.

I decided I should add the "like" button to my posts, for all you lazy non-commenters who still claim to love reading my blog. ;) (Just kidding, guys. I love you all.) But today I went to do that, and discovered that I already did it a long time ago. It's saved in my settings that way--but it doesn't appear on my blog. I have no idea why; I thought for a minute that it might be my template overriding the Blogger changes, but I've now ruled that out since my template switch was really recent and the "like" button setting has been that way for much longer. Boo, Blogger.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some Tidbits I've Been Saving Up

"A young actress ought not resemble an octogenarian's throw pillow. In general." --On Keira Knightley wearing this.

Support for the practice of selecting all the airport options when you are booking a flight: We got our tickets to Utah for about $150 less than the cheapest available rate, will not have to drive to and from the Salt Lake airport, AND will have the mysterious experience of flying in and out of the Provo Municipal Airport. Priceline for the win.

It is a strange thing to see poop actually coming out of a bum--like when Lana says she pooped, so you check her diaper and don't see any, but then you look closer and oh, yes, there it is.

I'm not very happy about the electronic sign they just put in outside the new municipal complex. It's such a nice complex, one that fits very well into the sort of wildernessy nature in that area, and the sign does not mesh well at all. (Sometimes I'm not sure why I include things like this, since I believe I have exactly one reader who knows the area where I live... Oh well.)

Also... It's raining! And... it's fall!!! I'm sitting on the patio right now, listening to the rain and looking at how beautiful it is when the porch light shines through it. I tell you what, friends, the fall season is one of the very few things that can get totally unapologetic multiple exclamation points out of me. I get spastically happy every year around this time, and I love it so much. The arrival of fall is one of my most absolute favorite things in the entire world.

I'm probably going to be posting a little more often now--I've found that I miss my blog a lot more than I miss Facebook. And now it's off to watch The Invention of Lying, which I didn't bother with when it came out because Jennifer Garner kind of made me think it'd be a cheesy chick flick, but the other day I saw that Tina Fey is in it, and now I'm interested, and it happens to be on TV tonight so I think that's pretty much a sign. 


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Offline Update

Aside from being deathly ill for most of it, the last week has been really fantastic. I am loving being offline.

The downside is, of course, that I am already out of touch with what's going on in the lives of friends and family; at this point I'm trying to decide how future interneting is going to go, and for the near future I'm considering some kind of halfway thing where I comment on other people's things, but maybe don't post anything of my own.

It's just so nice to ignore the computer for a while. I changed all the settings on my phone so I don't get email or Facebook notifications, and I removed the Facebook app from my home screen so I only go there if there's something specific I want to look at. I don't constantly check my email to see if there are any comments I need to publish or respond to; I don't find myself clicking over to Facebook even when I know I was there just ten minutes ago, just to see if there's something new; I don't need to check all the blogs I comment on to see if there's been an update in the discussion I'm participating in (I don't like to get email notifications whenever there's a new comment). I have to admit that I do still have the immediate thought, whenever I read something interesting, that I need to go post it... but then it's kind of nice to remember that I'm not doing that right now.

Since I was randomly and suddenly very sick when I woke up Friday morning, I spent the weekend watching movies and reading. It's convenient that my entire family is out of town right now--Daniel and Joseph left for BYU, mom went with them, and dad is on a motorcycle road trip, so it's just Mike, Benjamin, and me in the house--because it was easy for me to take over the living room and not worry about cleaning up any of my junk for a while. I barely touched a computer the whole weekend, and the feeling of freedom was kind of amazing. (As Mike said last night, it actually felt like we were on vacation, despite the fact that we still had to work and I was sick.) You wouldn't think there would be pressure from things like blogging and Facebooking, would you? since after all, those are voluntary things. But there is. You'd be surprised.

So the moral of the story is that I am very happy with the current state of things. If you're interested in just doing something different for a little while, try going offline for a week. Everything will still be there when you get back, and in the meantime, you can have a little vacation wherein you realize that you actually do have time to do things like read or watch a movie... You just have to take it from somewhere else.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan--7.5/10

Despite the fact that this book was not at all what I thought it was going to be, I really liked it. From the cover and the title, I think I had the impression that some kind of alternate-universing or sci-fi-ing was going to be taking place; it didn't. The Will Graysons are two kids from regular old Chicago, and there is no sci-fi involved.

The first Will Grayson is emotionally repressed--like most teenagers, I think, except that this Will goes so far as to have rules: 1. Don't care too much, and 2. Shut up. The second Will Grayson is gay and self-loathing, and although I listened to this on audio, I read in a review that his chapters are done all in lowercase. Frankly, that probably would have been pretty annoying to me, so I'm glad I went the audio route--although that way had its downsides too. The narrators were fantastic and I really liked the way they read the characters... but I could probably have done without the singing. (One of the major plotlines is the planning of a school musical being written by Will Grayson #1's best friend, Tiny Cooper, and any time lyrics were included, the narrators sang them. They both sing surprisingly well, but... you know. Still.) The language level is fairly mature, so if that bothers you, I always think reading is probably easier than listening.

I'm not going to lie--there were some fairly cheesy parts, like the contrived ending, and all the scenes involving Tiny Cooper. But I liked those things in spite of their cheesiness, and I thought it was a really lovely story.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Going Offline

I think I'm going to go offline for a little while. I won't be posting on Facebook, or on my blog, except for maybe book reviews--I haven't decided about that yet. I'll respond to emails, if there are any that need responding. And I'll still be using Goodreads, since that's how I keep track of what I read now.

I've gotten too dependent on comments. I put a lot of time and effort into writing my book reviews, posting interesting articles, and talking about the things I care about, and I get depressed when people don't take an interest. I need to learn to do these things for myself, not for the sake of the conversation they'll start. So that's what I'm going to do, and I don't know how long it's going to be. But I will be back sometime, and you'll be the first to know when I do!

The Declaration of Independence

In re: my feelings on health care and welfare (from the text of a comment made on the welfare post):

The Declaration of Independence says that we believe life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights, and it says "that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." It is not up for debate that being able to feed, house, and maintain the physical health of your family is essential to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Governments are instituted for the purpose of securing these rights--so, these absolutely are issues the government should be involved in. "The consent of the governed" is necessary to decide how it should happen, but that doesn't mean that an inadequate solution should be adopted just because the majority wants to act in its own self-interest. These rights are "unalienable" for all people--not just the ones who make enough money.

This is the balancing act required by a nation like ours: to have pseudo-democracy where the decisions are made by the people (aka the majority), but also to secure certain rights for all citizens, which sometimes means acting against the will of the majority. We have to decide what's more important--our beloved "free market," or the principles of equality and freedom this country was founded on. Some people believe that free market is the embodiment of those principles, but for many people it is actually the means of destroying them. Those people are Americans too.

"Action expresses priorities."
Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Protection by Censorship

I came across this post the other day about a parent in Virginia who requested that A Study in Scarlet be removed from the sixth grade curriculum, to be replaced with The Hound of the Baskervilles, because Scarlet contains an inaccurate depiction of the LDS Church.

Like the writer of the post, I am at least glad that the parent went about it in a fairly reasonable way, expressing a specific concern about the book and suggesting a replacement that is basically the same but without the offending material. The book is still optional for teaching to higher grades.

But I can't help but wonder why it's necessary to remove the book from any curriculum. Wouldn't it be fairly easy for a teacher to say, "By the way, this is actually not what the LDS Church believes"? Couldn't that actually be an excellent opportunity to let kids know that there are misunderstandings about that religion, and others, out there, and they shouldn't just accept everything they hear from any source? It just seems unnecessary to me--an obstacle that, while legitimate, could have been really easily overcome.